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Pooling Europe’s eco-innovation efforts



ECO-INNOVERA is an attempt to create a truly European vision and support programme for eco-innovation with one of its first outputs being a cross-border call for proposals for R&D.

ECO-INNOVERA is a new European Research Area (ERA) network that brings together different Member States - and their funds - to launch cross-border eco-innovative research and development (R&D) projects. In parallel, the network will investigate the best ways of disseminating eco-innovations.

ERA is the research and innovation equivalent of the European single market for goods and services. It introduces a transnational perspective to R&D in Europe, aiming to improve research institutions by bringing them into contact with one another. The potential value of cross-border research has never been greater as regions seek to focus on a few core areas - developing so-called smart specialisation strategies - that mean each will turn to others for expertise in other areas.

Bringing results `from research to markets' has been a priority for ETAP since its launch. Despite some success, i.e. the creation of European Technology Platforms in green technology areas, or increase in the funding available for green technologies from the Sixth Framework Programme for Research (FP6) to FP7, it became clear that a more coordinated approach to research and research funding by the Member States would be a huge boost for eco-innovation.

ECO-INNOVERA marks an initial step in this direction. It was launched in April 2010 with Euro2 million in EU funding from the Seventh Framework Programme. Its first achievement was bringing together 25 partners from 20 countries - by joining, these national research and environment agencies and ministries effectively agreed to develop a joint vision of eco-innovation. Through cross-border calls for funding, they will back this commitment with hard cash.

First joint call

In July 2011, 13 ECO-INNOVERA partners launched the initiative's first joint call. Countries including Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Spain, Sweden and Turkey put up Euro15 million to fund projects in three research categories:

  • Paradigm change;
  • Sustainable industrial processes and products; and
  • Recycling and waste reuse.

The first category was the broadest. It aimed to encourage life-cycle thinking and new business models and value chains which embed sustainable production and consumption. Eco-innovation is about much more than just green technologies, emphasises ECO-INNOVERA coordinator Christiane Koziolek at the Jülich research centre in Germany.

By defining eco-innovation very broadly, ECO-INNOVERA is moving beyond the technology-focus of ETAP. Koziolek suggests the broader definition could make cross-border co-operation easier because it invites so many disciplines and sectors to take part. The kinds of proposals this category prompted could help ECO-INNOVERA define priorities for its second joint call, scheduled for early 2013 - the project is due to run until 2014.

The second two research categories were more technical: ECO-INNOVERA plans to support research which improves the environmental footprint of high-polluting industries and research into making new and better products with waste.

To qualify for funding, applicants had to consist of a group representing at least three Member States, or two if a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) was involved - this was to encourage SME participation. Only organisations from the 13 Member States putting up the money could apply. There were no restrictions on public or private sector participation and the application deadline was 30 September 2011.

Getting industry involved

Apart from the joint calls for funding, the other main aspect of ECO-INNOVERA's work is investigating how best to get industry involved in eco-innovation. With this in mind, the project has launched two big pieces of research into the role of information and communications technology (ICT) and of science parks in developing and disseminating eco-innovations.

ICT can play a role in the development of many eco-innovations, for example when it comes to improving logistics, but it must be well-integrated from the start, says Koziolek. If it is not, it can consume more energy and resources than it saves. ICT can support innovation by promoting information exchange and the merging of different business activities.

Science parks typically consist of clusters of companies built around technical universities. They seek to take advantage of academics' knowledge and each other. Making use of one another's waste and by-products, and sharing resources can trigger innovations. As with its ICT research, ECO-INNOVERA is seeking to understand what makes a science park successful to put together a guide of best practice for the construction of new ones.

The project's industry engagement work also includes a planned programme of co-operation with the European Technology Platforms. These industry-led stakeholder forums define research agendas for particular technologies. How this collaboration could look is yet to be decided, but likely platforms for early co-operation include advanced engineering materials and technologies (EuMat), construction (ECTP), sustainable mineral resources (ETP SMR) and sustainable chemistry (SusChem).

ECO-INNOVERA also plans to analyse courses on eco-design and eco-innovation currently offered by universities to see how they shape students' understanding of the concept, whether it affects their consumption behaviour, job choice, etc.

Achieving broader understanding

Running in the background behind the joint calls and activities to engage businesses is a broader effort to understand how eco-innovation is currently supported in EU Member States. Preliminary results indicate eco-innovation can be defined very differently in different countries; moreover fewer than five Member States have dedicated funding for eco-innovation. But others do support it through more general policies, such as R&D tax breaks and general innovation strategies. Again, ECO-INNOVERA wants to identify what works and what does not. It will compile a report on best practice.

ECO-INNOVERA will also be organising a joint workshop with the Commission-funded ECOPOL eco-innovation programme owners and managers partnership in 2012 to address the whole value chain of eco-innovation from research to market and to identify best policies for eco-innovation. This, together with the joint research calls and engagement with industry, will feed ECO-INNOVERA's ultimate aim: developing a truly European strategy and action programme to support eco-innovation.

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